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The Cove - Movie Review - 2009

A Documentary Thriller About Animal Rights

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The Cove - Movie Review - 2009

The Cove - Warning Signage

Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions
Richard O'Barry, the animal trainer behind the phenomenal success of the television show, Flipper and animal rights activist Louis Psihoyos recruit an A Team-like crew of filmmakers and environmentalists to expose Taiji, Japan's fishermen's annual dolphin roundup and slaughter of thousands of dolphins.

Filmmaking for A Cause

The film shows how the town of Taiji, Japan, and a small and greedy group of fishermen use the audio sensitivity of dolphins to drive thousands of the seasonally migrating creatures into a hidden cove. Once the animals are trapped, the fishermen separate healthy young animals for sale to aquariums -- such as that those run by Sea World and other water theme parks -- that pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for trainable animals. Then, horrifically, the fishermen lance the remaining animals who, after they bleed out into the ocean and die, are hauled into boats and transported to markets where they are sold as 'whale' meat.

Be prepared: the film is as brutal and heartbreaking as the most alarming news footage you've ever seen of human natural disasters and tragedies such as hurricanes, earthquakes and terrorist attacks.

Richard O'Barry, who has repeatedly attempted to stop the Taiji fishermen and focus the world's attention on the situation, is a strong advocate for the dolphins. Speaking from his experiences on the Flipper set and years of working with these sentient creatures, O'Barry presents a very compelling argument that dolphins have a high degree of intelligence and the same sort of self-awareness that humans have, and that the fear and suffering the experience during their entrapment and slaughter are as profound as our own would be.

Others who are interviewed in the film indicate that they've had inter-species communications. One surfer claims a dolphin saved him from an attacking shark. All believe dolphins should be protected in the wild, where they belong.

Filmmakers Under Threat

The Cove - Taijin Fishermen

Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions
What's most unusual about this documentary is the undercover tactics filmmakers were forced to use to make the film. As soon as the documentary begins, you become aware that there's resistance to the filmmakers' presence in Taiji, and that the crew are not only being monitored, but are actually under threat of arrest which, under Japanese law, can last for many months, even years, without a hearing or trial.

Under Psihoyos' direction, the film crew comes up with a plan worthy of James Bond. They're going to defy local authorities to secretly set up remote control cameras and audio devices that will record and expose the fishermen's heinous behavior. The plan calls for the use of infra red and underwater cameras and other high tech devices that give this unusual film an entirely unique look.

The result is a well researched and credible advocacy documentary that fascinates and plays like a spy thriller. Throughout the film, you're rooting for O'Barry, Psihoyos and the good guys, and are scared stiff that they'll be found out and that their mission will fail. Most of all, you're rooting for the dolphins and the footage of their treatment is harrowing and heartbreaking. So, there's genuine drama here, and there will be no spoilers to guide your experience with and/or lessen the suspense and impact of this film.

Presenting Case with Craft

The drama is backed up with solid verite coverage of International Whaling Commission conferences, interviews with animal experts and politicians and other documentary evidence. The Cove, presenting its compelling case with exceptional cinematic craft, has garnered a lot of acclaim on the festival circuit, and there's already Oscars buzz about the film. It's all deserved. To date, this is one of 2009's finest documentaries. Be sure to see it.

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Film Details:

  • The Cove - 2009
  • Director: Louis Psihoyos
  • US Theatrical Release Date: July 31, 2009 (limited)
  • Running Time: 92 mins.
  • MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for disturbing content.
  • Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
  • Location: Japan,
  • Language: English and Japanese (with English subtitles)
  • Production Country: USA
  • Production Company: Diamond Docs
  • Distribution Company: Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions
  • Awards:
    • Sundance Film Festival - Won Audience Award Documentary - 2009
    • Sundance Film Festival - Nominated for Grand Jury Prize Documentary - 2009
    • Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival - Won Audience Award Best Documentary - 2009
    • Newport Beach Film Festival - Won Audience Award Best Documentary - 2009
    • Seattle International Film Festival - Won Golden Space Needle Award Best Documentary - 2009

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